Sunday, 31 January 2010

The Charles Taylor Writer's Circle

The Charles Taylor Writers Circle on television tonight
Seamus O"Regan has an intimate conversation with the four Short Listed authors

TV personality Seamus O'Regan hosts a personal and revealing televised conversation with all four authors shortlisted for the 2010 Prize on Sunday, January 31st at 7:00 p.m. Bravo! Television will be airing The Charles Taylor Writer's Circle. a half-hour show featuring all four authors shortlisted for The 2010 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction. The four authors talk unscripted with CTV's Seamus O'Regan in this special edition of the weekly Arts&Minds program.

Taped in Toronto's famed Masonic Temple before a live studio audience, this special edition of Arts&Minds features an intimate conversation with the four CTP finalists that gives the audience a first-hand account of the inspiration behind the authors' books, and an opportunity to speak directly to the authors and ask questions, town-hall style.

The 2010 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction finalists are:
1. Ian Brown for The Boy in the Moon: A Father's Search For His Disabled Son, published by Random House Canada.
2. John English for Just Watch Me: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, 1968 - 2000, published by Knopf Canada.
3. Daniel Poliquin for René Lévesque, published by Penguin Canada.
4. Kenneth Whyte for The Uncrowned King: The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst, published by Random House Canada.
The January 31st Bravo! broadcast will also soon be available for viewing on the network's website at Arts&Minds is also producing an extensive upcoming program tracking the 2010 Charles Taylor Prize events, from the announcement of the shortlist on January 5, through to the announcement of the winner at the gala luncheon and awards ceremony on February 8.

The prestigious Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction recognizes excellence in Canadian non-fiction writing. Since its inception the prize has fostered a growing interest in non-fiction, engaged Canadians in the genre of literary non-fiction, and boosted sales of the winning authors' books. Founded in commemoration of the late Charles Taylor, one of Canada's foremost essayists and a prominent member of the Canadian literary community, the prize is awarded annually to the author whose book best combines a superb command of the English language, an elegance of style, and a subtlety of thought and perception.
The winner of the 2010 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction will be announced at a gala awards ceremony and luncheon, to be held at Le Meridien King Edward Hotel in downtown Toronto on Monday, February 8, 2010. The Prize consists of $25,000 for the winning author and $2,000 for each runner-up with promotional support for each shortlisted title.
The Prize is presented by the Charles Taylor Foundation with generous support from Bravo!, Ben McNally Books, CTV, CNW Group, Event Source, Windfield Farms Limited, Le Meridien King Edward Hotel, The Globe and Mail, and Quill & Quire. For more information: For further information: Media are requested to confirm their attendance with Stephen Weir & Associates: Stephen Weir: (416) 489-5868, cell: (416) 801-3101,; Linda Crane: (905) 257-6033, cell: (416) 727-0112,

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Talk up Cayman's East End diving and you get the Black Dot


Warning to Cayman’s Rick the Pirate:
Talk up East End diving and you get the Black Dot.

By Stephen Weir
Diver Magazine November 2006

Rick the Pirate needs to be seriously bribed. The next diver to visit Georgetown, Grand Cayman owes it to the scuba community to slip a C-note to the official Caribbean island greeter and ask him not to tell people just how good the diving is on the Island’s remote East End.
Rick the Pirate is an American born, Cayman resident and works for a number of the fine shops in Georgetown. Every morning he puts on his hoop-earrings, knee high boots and sword and heads down to the waterfront. When he’s feeling particularly piratey he sticks a flintlock pistol into his wide black belt. His job is to “Ahoy” loudly at every “bilge rat” sporting an Hawaiian shirt and Tilley Hat that passes through the cruise ship gates. He posses for pictures with the Lubbers and recommends the best places to shop, to drink grog, to sunbathe and to dive.
“Arr Matey” said the 6ft something, sword-carrying pirate. “There are many days when we get over 6,000 cruise ship visitors, and the only scuba they ask for is the Seven Mile Beach and Sting Ray City. Don’t worry, it them takes too long to get out to the East End.”
When he isn’t downtown he is on VIBE FM, the local radio station, talking to Deon Matis, a famous Jamaican disc jockey who now holds down the morning drive show. Cruise numbers are a hot local talk topic since there is an inverse relationship between the number of tourists walking the streets and how quickly it takes to drive anywhere on the 35 kilometre (21 mile) long island.
“Six cruise ships in Georgetown,” said Neal Wallwork dive master with Ocean Frontiers. “ The roads will be jammed. No point in going into town. It is a beautiful day to go diving.”
In fact, almost every day is a perfect for diving off Cayman’s Eastern End. Grand Cayman is an oddly shaped island, looking somewhat like an open mouthed C-Clamp. The east end is a hook-shaped peninsula ringed by a healthy barrier reef.
You find the airport and Georgetown on the west coast. The small city is famed for its shopping, its highly secretive -- but very profitable -- banking community and the nearby Seven Mile Beach (which is actually six miles long and has some great dive sites).
While Seven Mile Beach never sleeps, the East End has trouble keeping its eyes open after sun down. There aren’t any malls, bars or miniature golf clubs here. Mother Nature rules while civilization drools.
Ocean Frontiers has the luxury of doing business in a section of the island that harkens back to the 70s, before divers discovered the three-island British colony. Aside from the laid-back ambiance they are blessed with having amazing scuba sites close to shore in a north, south and easterly directions.
Hardcore divers will have heard of, but probably not visited the top five sites that ring the eastern end – Babylon, Snapper Hole, Jack McKenny, River of Sand and the unforgettable Maze.
Local divers treat Babylon as a shore dive, in fact ranks Babylon as having perfect reef conditions. However, it is a long swim and getting there by boat is so much easier! Because it is close to Sting Ray City – a shallow area where hundreds of sting rays congregate to be feed by an equal number of snorkellers and divers – Babylon is often the first stop on a 3-tank East End adventure.
The name of the site derives from the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World; the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. While the HGB never made it into the A.Ds, the underwater version defies time and is still the biggest baddest dive site on the island. Here the hanging gardens are made up of dangling soft corals, massive sponges and thick forests of black coral. It is breathtaking to slide down through a deep dark canyon at the top of the reef and punch out at 33 meters on the wall gazing into the Big Blue. Pelagic fish abound, the visibility is incredible and not a signal sign of mans’ intrusion can be seen.
In Cayman there is an active underwater association that installs mooring balls, sets dive standards, and polices the dive operations. It is also establishes names for the sites that tourists visit. It is a real honour to have a dive site named after you. Even though former Diver Magazine photographer and filmmaker Jack McKenney has been dead for 20+ years, there is still a site in the East End that bears his name.
“This was a favourite dive of the famous filmmaker,” wrote Ocean Explorers’ co-owner Stephen Broadbelt. “ It is a site with deep vertical canyons leading to the deepest drop-off in the northern hemisphere -- 25,000 feet downwards. This is the East End's Number One dive site for sharks and eagle rays sightings.”
To the east and south of the island there are natural cuts through the reef. Sometimes the cuts are filled with sand, other times they are filled with life.
River of Sand is a section of the outer wall where the clean white sand tumbles from 15 metres down to a depth of 40 metres. The underwater dune looks so much like snow that some divers have taken skis down with them to capture truly bizarre Kodak moments.
The nearby Maze has similar cuts through the wall. Instead of sand filling the void, soft corals and sponges flourish. Divers get out onto the wall by swimming through a confusing network of caves and canyons. There are parts of the natural maze where stone pillars rise 30 metres towards the surface, looking like an underwater version of Jordan’s Petra canyon.
Snapper Hole isn’t as deep as the Maze but also has caves and canyons to swim through. Don’t tell Rick the Pirate but there is a 19th century anchor fused into the reef bed.
The Ocean Frontier one of only three full service operations at the far end of the island. They have Nitrox, well-maintained rental gear, a GUE instructor and underwater video / photography services (managed by British Columbia diver Justin Bongers). Ocean Frontier owners have been in the forefront of preserving Cayman’s underwater habitat, spearheading the mooring pin programme, a shark watch project and a new endeavour to sink an artificial reef off the Eastern End.
The shop, pool and air fill station is part of a small condo hotel called Compass Point Dive Resort. The units are full service, are luxurious and all balconies look down onto the dive dock. Ocean Frontier also has a shop at the nearby 110 room Reef Resort Hotel.
“Never have to go into town, we got it all here. “ said Mr. Broadbelt. “If you really crave entertainment beyond our star gazing and night dives, you can go down the road and see the Barefoot Man at the East End, Reef Resort Hotel.”
“Be it here or at the East End, Cayman Diving Lodge or Tortuga Divers,” he continued, “ we all tend to cater to repeat divers. It is not difficult diving, the East End is diving for people who live to get wet.”

Photos by Stephen Weir and Jim Kozmik
Top: East End Turtle
Second from top right: Vibe radio host Deon Matis
Third and Fourth from top: Checking out one of Cayman's East End Walls
Below: Rick the Pirate. Photo from Flickr


Ocean Frontiers
Austin Connolly Drive
PO Box 200 EE
East End
US: 1-888-232-0541
Phone: 1-345-947-7500

Cayman Diving Lodge
East End
PO Box 11 EE
US: 1-800-TLC-DIVE
Phone: 1-345-947-7555
Fax: 1-345-947-7560

Tortuga Divers Ltd
Morritt's Tortuga Club
PO Box 496 EE
Phone: 1-345-947-7449
Fax: 1-345-947-9486

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Ottawa Winterlude – where a million people come to chill


Toronto, January 13, 2010 – It's a mid-winter post-holidaze festival. Ottawa is once again getting ready to launch Winterlude, a two week February celebration of the best the season has to offer.
The annual festival runs from February 5th to February 21st and presents a variety of amazing winter weather activities including, skating, skiing, dog sledding, an outdoor animated shorts film festival with a snow screen and even an outdoor musical concert featuring music performed on instruments made out of ice. And, don’t forget the food, indoors many restaurants have created an affordable Taste of Winterlude culinary program, while outside, ice hog grog and hot beaver tails (pastries) are mainstays.
Each year, over 1-million Canadian and international visitors experience the cold weather sights and sounds of dozen and dozens of Winterlude events (most of them free), including the largest skating rink in the world (the Rideau Canal), glittering ice sculptures, and "chill" late night events.
Ottawa’s Confederation Park has been renamed Rogers Crystal Gardens. For three days beginning February 5th the world’s best ice carvers will be in the Gardens competing in the “International Ice-Carving Competition”. Composer/percussionist Jesse Stewart will be at the Crystal Gardens performing Glacialis, a musical suite for instruments designed and built out of ice.
Speaking of ice, Rogers Crystal Gardens will also be home to the Crystal Lounge, a temporary structure filled with everything from tic-tac-toe games built out ice, from an ice lounge built out of? You guessed it, ice.
“ We have a number of new events this year,” says Jantine Van Kregten Director of Communications, Ottawa Tourism. “Here's one cool new project for Winterlude 2010, The Urban Cozy Project. It is being staged by Spin and Needles, Ottawa’s premiere creative night out. They're asking people to knit, crochet or otherwise produce "cozies" that can be wrapped around trees and bushes in Rogers Crystal Gardens.”
Trees in Jacques-Cartier Park (renamed the Sunlife Snowflake Kingdom) will be wrapped in cozies too! As well, on Saturdays and Sundays you can take a dog sled ride in the park. And after a quick Mush through the Snowflake Kingdom visitors can take in works of snow art! With the theme of “Winter Fun,” teams representing Canada’s provinces and territories will compete in the National Snow Sculpture Competition. The contest runs Tuesday, February 9, to Saturday, February 13th in Snowflake Kingdom.
Winterlude has many family friendly options during the winter. One favourite activity is skating on the Rideau Canal. On Saturdays and Sundays you can enroll everyone in skating classes on the Canal. Sign up for a free 45-minute learn-to-skate session provided by professional coaches.
On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays starting at 6:30pm, families can watch winter-inspired, short animated films on a giant snow screen in the Rogers Crystal Gardens. Taking a warm break is worth a lot of money! Inside, families can check out Wintermuse at the Currency Museum of the Bank of Canada.” Discover how money has affected the Olympic Games, and learn about the relationship between currency and sports.”
The National Capital Commission has created a webpage for Winterlude. Events listings, contests, videos and a Facebook link can be accessed at
Tourists wanting information, tickets and lodging reservations can visit, a powerful website operated by Ottawa Tourism and supported by the region’s growing tourism industry. There are three themed hotel packages built around the Winterlude festival. Visit their website for information on the 2-night Winterlude Family Getaway and the Winterlude Rendezvous for Two. Don’t overlook the Yummy Mummy Winterlude Getaway package designed in conjunction with Yummy Mummy TV host Erica Ehm (who will be bringing her family to Ottawa for Winterlude).
Ottawa Tourism provides destination marketing, strategic direction and leadership in cooperation with members and partners to service the travel media and attract visitors, tours and conventions to Ottawa and Canada’s Capital Region. Its vision is to build recognition of Ottawa as an outstanding four-season tourism destination.
CUTLINE - Skating on the world's largest skating rink has begun again in Ottawa.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

A Galapagos Shark Encounter

High Impact Eco-Tourism A Galapagos Shark Encounter

By Stephen Weir
in the Galapagos Islands
A mammoth shark to the left, an equally hefty one to the right. Two noble sharks so huge that as they glided by I could feel the wake of the water as it was pushed across their broad three-metre-long frames. In a snap I'd gone from a happy-go-lucky Galapagos Islands tourist to being the jam in a shark tooth sandwich.

For scuba divers, the Galapagos Archipelago is the place to see schoolinghammerhead sharks, sleepy white tip reef sharks and the odd whale or two. Like most divers, I'm not averse to swimming with sharks. But when the sharkis bigger, wider [THAN ME] and of a species suspected to enjoy the tasteof [HUMAN] flesh, well, it is time to reflect on why one got into the waterin the first place.
The Galapagos Islands are unique. Situated on the equator some 950 kilometres west off the coast of Equador, this remote volcanic archipelago remains much as it was millions of years ago. Its unique wildlife - both in and out of the water - has evolved without fear of man.
Still, after a four-day island-hopping eco-cruise aboard the plush triple-deck MV Santa Cruz, I had had my fill of blue-footed boobies,copulating giant tortoises and slime-spitting lizards.
I had been feted aboard the Santa Cruz, the biggest cruise ship allowed to sail among these environmentally controlled [PROTECTED BY THE UNITED NATIONS] islands. On board were a dozen university-trained naturalists. Conversant in what seemed like every known language, they escorted the passengers over hill and lava field, observing a variety of endangered birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals.
Access to the islands is annually limited to 100,000 people. A brain trust of experts does everything to minimize man's impact on the ecosystem. Theday I left, a team of Australian-trained "hit men" converged on IsabellaIsland to begin slaughtering 100,000 wild goats introduced on to the island a century ago.
The goat cull is an effort to sustain the giant tortoises - the slow-moving tortoises are dying off because the ravenous goats are eating them out of house and shell. However, the two tortoises I saw and heard were oblivious to the hunt. They were too busy copulating in a bush. Not only was the congress a study in slow motion, it was also a noisy affair as shell scraped and banged upon shell.
It is stifling on these volcanic islands, and tortoise watching is a hot and sweaty business. To cool off in between treks, snorkelling expeditions were laid on.
Drifting parallel to the craggy cliffs of Isabela Island, our wet-suited snorkelling party encountered penguins - the most northerly herd in the world. The penguins were hunting bait fish, and the pickings were good.
A day later I was snorkelling around Turtle Island, a large rock that sits in the middle of a channel off Hood Island. The current at tide change is so strong that if you go with the flow, you can almost circumnavigate the rock without kicking a flipper.
Flying over rocks and deep crevasses it was impossible to fight the current,let alone stop and observe life on the bottom. Pity. Ten minutes into the snorkel, I glided over a horn shark, feeding on sea urchins. A relative of the bull shark, this blunt-nosed, motley metre-long shark, oblivious to the current, was having his fill crunching up spiny echinoderms with his grinding molars. There were no turtles to be found near Turtle Island. But a snorkel trip off nearby Isabella Island proved that the green turtle has as little fear for humans in the water, as the tortoise does on land.
As I was snorkelling in shallow water a 100 metres off-shore, a pair of the metre-long turtles decided to swim alongside me. It was a rare chance to examine this usually shy species. One of the turtles had had a close encounter with an orca or shark: a large bite was taken out of her shell. The wound healed long ago but the turtle still pushed itself sideways through the water.
As we approached a small rocky reef, the turtles veered off. Finning down to look at the rocks, we saw a small cave filled with resting white tipped sharks. The largest shark was about 1.5 metres long and was at the very back of the grotto. Four sharks, in descending order of size, were piled inbeside her, filling the opening with their bodies.
It is a misnomer to say that the white tip sleeps. Zonked, whacked out, lazy - yes. But 10 eyes watched us as we swam within inches of their whip-liketails.

Those were the last sharks that I saw while snorkelling

Desperate to actually stay underwater for longer than a minute, I took a layover in the small city of Puerto Ayoro on Indefatigable Island (Isla Santa Cruz) and signed on for two dives in the cold waters of the SouthPacific Ocean.
Puerto Ayoro is the centre of commerce for the 16,000 Ecuadoreans who scratch out a living on five of the 46 islands that make up the Galapagos Archipelago. Education, fishing and tourism keep Puerto Ayoro, a community of 2,000, limping along. Drab old stone buildings line a large harbour chock-a-block full of sailing boats, trawlers and eco-tour boats.
Although Puerto Ayoro is only 80 kilometres south of the equator, only the heartiest visitor goes swimming without a wet suit. Out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the Galapagos is the terminus point for an Antarctic deep water current.
In these waters you won't find pretty corals or fancy little fish; it is just too cold. The seas teem with life, but in this tough environment the fish are big and their predators are even bigger.
I had arranged to meet a dive boat owner in Puerto Ayoro who was prepared to take me to a high impact dive site. White tips and horn sharks are fine, but my goal was to photograph the schooling hammerheads that are known to frequent the waters near Santa Cruz island.
Oh, the vagaries of dealing by e-mail. Not only were the captain and his boat nowhere to be found, his wife hid when we knocked on their front door.When we came around the back of the building we spotted her through the window hunkered down behind her desk.
There are half a dozen shops in town, and the last outfit [DIVE SHOP] on the strip, Iguana Divers, agreed to take me out for two dives. Their luxurious high-speed dive boat had already left for the day, but they did have an old wooden punt that could do the trick.
The boat was too small and too rickety to get us out of Academy Bay and into the ocean proper. "However," promised shop ower Marhias Espinosa, "we can explore a lava tube - it's always filled with white tips."
The lava tube led from a long-extinct volcano. Its roof had collapsed into the sea, so the small wooden boat easily made its way into the black-rimmed channel. A hundred metres into the tube, the captain of the punt cut the engine, put on a dive mask and stuck his face in the water. He claimed he could often see the sharks from the surface.
No such luck. In fact, the waters were so turbid, the captain said he couldn't even see his nose. Meanwhile, strong seas were pushing in on the lava tube and the captain's mate had his hands full making sure our boat wasn't dashed against the wall.
As storm clouds rolled in and the seas mounted, the decision was made to make a dive alongside a stone point that jutted out into the bay near the tubes. The black rocks of the quay were home to a healthy population of Sea Lions. The cows had just given birth and the pups were taking their first swims in the water.
Four of us went into the water. Our captain went with a Swiss psychiatrist. This was her first dive in years, and he wanted to make sure that she was comfortable underwater. I went with the captain's son, a university student who spoke no English but smiled a lot.
In fear that the waves would rip apart our boat if we dropped anchor, we jumped into the water and the mate drove the boat to a point in the bay where he figured we would probably surface in an hour's time.
Hitting the water, my buddy [THE CAPT'S SON] and I were instantly separated from the other two. At a depth of 12 metres, the water was extremely turbid. I could barely make out the yellow flippers of my dive guide, a few strokes ahead.
Although I was wearing a full suit, the water was punishingly cold. The cold didn't stop the sea lions from taking a look, though. One young pup swam under my arm, another tugged at my flipper. An adult swam up and glared in my mask as if to warn me not to touch her child.
Suddenly, there weren't any sea lions in the water. And my dive partner was nowhere to be seen.
I looked up and down. I scanned left and right. Where was my dive guide? I stopped worrying about him when the first big shark moved in. Coming out of the gloom, its snout passed within a foot of my shoulder. So close was its passing that I could examine its cold, passionless, unblinking eye as it slowly glided by.
The visibility was so poor that, looking backwards from its eye, I couldn' immediately see its end. I held my breath and waited to be bitten as the mature grey Galapagos shark went by.
Larger. Wider. Toothier than me. Make no mistake, I was just five feet from shore, sharing the water with a shark that was quite capable of eating me.
As the dorsal fin passed under me, I started breathing and swimming again. I expected the beast to turn and come back at me from behind. Still, when I felt a large thump on my tank I began shaking with both fear and surprise. Something had my aluminum tank in its grips. It didn't thrash like a shark would; it felt more like an octopus had latched on to my kit.
No time to stop and disengage, I had another problem coming in off the port side. A second Galapagos shark was on target, and this one dropped its nictitating membrane - you know, the membrane that protects the shark's eyes during feeding.
Time stopped. Again. As the shark came near my head, it veered slightly toward the open seas and passed without making contact. As the beast swam by, I meditated on what I knew about the Galapagos shark.
Technically the shark is the Carcharinus galapagensis and is often called the Grey Reef Whaler shark. With two rows of 14 razor-sharp teeth, theGalapagos shark has recorded several human kills. Living in coastal and pelagic waters of the Caribbean, Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Galapagos shark likes to hang near islands that have clear waters, rocky beds and uneven coral. The Galapagos shark can reach a maximum length of 3.7 metres.
I was not on the menu that day. With seal pups in the water and reduced visibility, the Galapagos sharks were going for take-out.
When the sharks had left my field of vision, I started to look for my dive guide. It didn't take long for me to figure out where he was - hanging on to my scuba tank!
Coaxing the fellow down, we agreed through sign language that the best course of action would be to swim in the opposite direction from the sharks and surface when we got low on air.
It was a sound philosophy and one that the two other divers in the water followed. Fifteen minutes after our encounter (you breathe heavy when you meet Mr. Jaws) we surfaced scant feet from the dive captain and his buddy. We sounded our air horns and within minutes were back in the boat, all in one piece.
For our next dive, the captain moved the boat to the leeward side of an island out in the middle of Academy Bay. While huge rolling waves smashed against the breakers, we swam in a zone of calm water. Turtles. Sea Lions. Fish schooling in the thousands. Our second trip underwater was shark free. Good. Remembering that adage to be careful what you wished for, I wisely kept my mouth shut.

As published by the National Post 2000

SIDEBAR: Galapagos Diving - If You Go

Side Bar: Ecuador Hot Spot for Diving and Volcanoes

Ah, Ecuador. Erupting volcanoes are your fitting metaphor. This is a democratic country where the president's name is pencilled in, foreign workers disappear into the amazing rain forest and the national currency takes a dump - daily. [Ecuador got rid of its currency - the sucra - after this article was written and adopted the US dollar as its currency of record]
For the most part I was on tour with the Quito-based Metropolitan Touring Company. This is a family-run business that gives five-star service and tries to leave nothing to luck. But, as chance would have it, a few things beyond their control did occur, including the following:
Volcanoes. An inability to speak Spanish left me ignorant of the fact that, while I was in Quito, a nearby volcano had started to spew smoke and ash. I thought the locals wore face masks because of industrial pollution!
Funny money. The dive shop charged me US$110 for the rental of the scuba gear, two scuba tanks, the boat ride and my cowardly dive guide. I was carrying Canadian currency and decided to pay them in their currency, the sucre (which has since been replaced). I went to the bank and exchanged Canadian dollars for the million and half sucres I owed them. At the bank all the big bills were gone. Do you know how long it takes to count to a million and half by hundreds? Over the course of an hour I got to meet everyone on the island and as a bonus I was given a bag to carry allthe money.
Ecuador is considered peaceful. But before I arrived in Ecuador, a dozen Canadian oil workers were kidnapped in the jungle. I, along with a few other journalists, was summoned to an afternoon lunch in a Quito. The foreign minister was there on behalf of the president. Canada's ambassador John Kneale was there too. Everyone apologized to us for the kidnapping, blaming it all on Colombian terrorists. A ransom was eventual paid and the Canadians were let go after months in the jungle. The president was forced out of office. In the Galapagos Islands, you only have to worry about the sharks.
M/N Santa Cruz
Metropolitan Touring
Quito, Ecuador
In USA Call Toll Free: 1-877-534-8584
As published in the Toronto National Post, 2000
CUTLINE: Quito-Ecuador, Oct-5-1999 eruption of the Volcano "Guagua Pichincha" while author in Quito. Photo from Flickr - Sankev -

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Winter Wonderland at The Lodge in Jackson Village


On-going series - hotels of note in the Granite State

It is a compliment when travellers leave notes that say things like “The Lodge at Jackson Village doesn’t really feel like a lodge”.
There is a good reason why the four season award-winning White Mountain inn doesn’t feel like a Lodge – it is too roomy to be called a Lodge. Built almost twenty years ago, the Lodge almost began life as a townhouse complex, that plan didn’t come to be; instead the project was modified to create an upscale 33-room hotel within walking distance of the picturesque and historic Jackson Village. The conversion has resulted in The Lodge having more spacious suites than what even the most discerning tourists would expect!
The Belcher family who own and operate the establishment operate The Lodge. Continental breakfasts are served mornings throughout the winter, and all guests are offered access to free snowshoes! The Lodge is located on the Ellis River, and more than half the rooms on the west side of the hotel have a lovely view of it.
Winter hikers and outdoor enthusiasts love the fact that The Lodge is only minutes from the Appalachian Trail and Mt. Washington. The Inn is in the heart of the 800,000-acre White Mountain National Forest. In the winter, enjoy hiking, skiing, dog sledding, horse-drawn sleigh rides, skating and spectacular outdoor mountain scenery.
Skiers of all skill levels love it here. There is Black Mountain, a great slope especially for beginners, Wildcat Mountain, known as a “skier’s mountain,” and then there is excellent cross-country skiing with the Jackson X-Country Ski Foundation located directly across the road from the lodge.
Jackson's clean mountain air, unforgettable landscape, covered bridges, white steepled church and unique shops and restaurants continually surprise and delight visitors. The community of just 700-people was voted one of the “Top Ten Most Romantic Villages in North America.”
The Belcher family’s hotel can be reached at 603-383-0999 or through their website at:

CUTLINES - Top - The Belchers
Bottom - The Lodge in warmer months

Thursday, 7 January 2010

I knew New Hampshire made a new brew map (Mr. Simpson would be very proud ... burp)

Beer Me Up Homer!
Homer Simpson might be able to smell a brewery 100kms away, but for the rest of the world a map sure comes in handy. New Hampshire is home to some of the best breweries not only in New England but in the United States , and, to help beer lovers find them, the tourism department has published an informative locator map and online brochure. Finding out where to find the best brew is only a mouse click away.
The new Brewery Map lists 16 establishments visitors should visit. The breweries range from small craft breweries like the Smuttynose Brewing Company in Portsmouth to the full scale Anheuser-Busch Brewery in Merrimack.
The Brewery Map explores the wide range of award-winning breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs located throughout the state and the fresh, handcrafted, New Hampshire-made beer found along the way.
By necessity the new publication hops all across the state. And while it is a full-bodied online brochure, it is also very stout with trivia. Each page of the map includes a Beer Fun Fact. Doah… did you know that “big flavoured beers like stout need a big food match, like a seasoned steak, where as fish could be enjoyed with a lighter fruity ale”.
The New Hampshire Brewery Map is now available for download from on the state’s powerful website under the Plan and Book Your Trip in the Tasty New Hampshire Itineraries section. (
To find out more about New Hampshire or to receive the new free visitor’s guide, call 1-800-FUN-IN-NH (386-4664) or visit